On Monday, President Joe Biden said that vaccine misinformation on Facebook harms people, while partially walking back a statement he made last week in which he told reporters that platforms like Facebook were “killing people” by allowing misinformation to spread.
“Facebook isn’t killing people, these 12 people are out there giving misinformation,” the president said, citing an administration report last week on online coronavirus vaccine misinformation. “That’s what I meant.”
“My hope is that Facebook, instead of taking it personally … that they would do something about the misinformation, the outrageous misinformation about the vaccine,” Biden continued.
Last week, the White House ramped up its fight against vaccine information in statements and reports directly tying social media platforms like Facebook to rising coronavirus case numbers. Asked a question about social media on Friday, Biden told reporters, “They’re killing people … the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated, and they’re killing people.” This statement was broadly received as a criticism of Facebook, a company White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki criticized last week.
Reached for comment, a Facebook spokesperson defended the company’s actions against vaccine misinformation. “We will not be distracted by accusations which aren’t supported by facts,” the spokesperson said. “The facts show that Facebook is helping save lives. Period.”
Tensions between the White House and Facebook have been escalating for months, according to a report from The New York Times last week. Administration officials presented Facebook with CrowdTangle data that suggested vaccine misinformation was increasing on the platform, but Facebook has refused to share any of its own data with the administration.
It remains to be seen if the White House will take more direct action to influence Facebook moderation. Asked if he would hold Facebook directly accountable, Biden said on Monday, “I’m not trying to hold people accountable. I’m trying to make people look at themselves in the mirror.” He continued, “Think about that misinformation going to your son, your daughter, your relative, someone you love. That’s all I’m asking.”